7 Sneaky Time Management Myths (and How to Beat Them)

by Corey Pemberton 9 Minutes

ProductiveEver feel like you could be more productive?

Join the crowd!

Even if they’ve been in the game for a long time with great success, many entrepreneurs still wish they had more time to navigate their workdays.

Almost all of us struggle with time management. But trying to find practical solutions can be almost as frustrating as squandering time itself.

There are a lot of time management myths out there. Buying in to them will make you even less productive than before. Keep reading to find out what those myths are – and what to do about them.

Why Most of Us Struggle to Separate Fact from Fiction

Being able to manage time well isn’t something we’re born with, like height or hair color. It’s a skill that must be learned and applied to change how you approach the day.

There’s good and bad news about this.

First, the good: any of us, no matter our situation, can learn to manage our time more effectively. You don’t have to be a genius to put some practical tips into action and reap the benefits.

And now the bad news. People haven’t ever really been able to decide on the “best” way to master this skill. But, because everyone is aware of time and deals with it, we all have an opinion on the topic. There’s a lot of confusion out there. Some of it has been spread around so often that people take it as truth. They apply advice without questioning it… only to wonder why they’re still unproductive.

The Most Common Time Management Misconceptions

The first step to reclaiming all those lost hours in your day is to simply identify the myths holding us back. We can’t fix problems we don’t see as problems.

Here are seven of the most dangerous time management myths – and different ways to think about handling them.

7. You Have to Use a To-Do List

time management myths

Image credit: JoyintheCommonplace

What’s one of the first things you hear about learning better time management?

Make a to-do list!

This recommendation, a pillar in self-help books, sounds simple enough. It means well…

But it’s a bit misguided.

To-do lists can and do work – but only for certain people. For the rest of us, they can even do more harm than good.

If you’ve tried these and are still struggling, it’s not your fault. Consider this. Once you make a list, you feel obligated to finish every item on it that day. If you don’t get through every little task (which happens often thanks to our tendency to underestimate how long things will take), you end each day on a low note. You’re disappointed you didn’t get to “everything”… even if you had an otherwise productive day.

This means to-do lists can be demotivating. What’s the point of starting when you know you won’t be able to finish everything?

To-do lists also create the temptation to focus on less demanding tasks (like admin and email) just to knock them off the list. It’s way easier to check off a few small items, enjoy the dopamine boost, and fool yourself into thinking you’re more productive than you really are. Yet critical tasks go undone.

Try This Instead

If you’ve fallen into the to-do list trap, it’s time to stop digging. Stop making new lists! Instead, you can try planning tasks to occur at specific times throughout the day. Block off times where certain things will get done (writing from 10 am to 12 pm, for instance). As long as you’re realistic about how long each task will take, this forces you to pick the most important activities and lessens the temptation to churn through a bunch of small (and ultimately unimportant) tasks.

If you want to keep using to-do lists, limiting yourself to four or five items will make you more productive. You’ll get through the most important stuff because it has to make the cut with such a small list. And you’re feel less disappointed when you look at your list at the end of the day and don’t see 30 unresolved items.

6. You’re Already Spending Your Time the Best You Can

spend time wisely

Image credit: skeeze

You might already be spending your time as wisely as you could. But for the rest of us mere mortals, there are plenty of things we can tweak to get more out of our workdays.

You’re probably busy already. Maybe you even feel productive. Here’s the challenge: it’s really tough to objectively assess how well we’re doing. We think we’re spending our time wisely… but we’re poor judges. We don’t see those little openings to be more productive.

If we could take a step back and get a bird’s eye view of the situation, we could collect all those spare minutes that slip by and use them to get to the next level.

Try This Instead

Stop relying on your own judgment about how well you’re spending your time. Start relying on pen and paper, a word document, or time tracking applications instead!

Do this for a week or two, and you’ll be shocked at just how much time is getting away. Best of all, you’ll be able to see how much time you spend on specific activities and spot troubling patterns.

Data – instead of opinion – helps you make objective assessments about whether you’re using your time productively… or just spinning your wheels.

You’ll probably notice a few problem spots. Maybe you’re spending a lot more time on social media or email than you realized. Knowing this (and the results those activities are generating) make it easier to better allocate your limited time.

5. You Need to Get More Done in Less Time

get more done less time

Image credit: stevepb

You can’t get better at managing time if you don’t know the end goal. A lot of us are confused. We think better time management means squeezing in more tasks into our already crowded schedules.

It’s easy to mistake efficiency (being able to do things well) for effectiveness (doing things that generate meaningful results). Getting faster at a task is good… but only if that task helps you bring in more customers or revenue.

The time management game isn’t about squeezing in lots more tasks. It’s about whittling down all the unimportant stuff. By either eliminating, delegating, or outsourcing certain activities, you free up time for the stuff that really makes an impact.

The number of tasks you get through is less important than the results they create.

Try This Instead

Instead of obsessing about getting faster or adding new tasks, prioritize.

Gives this little thought experiment a try. Make a list of all the tasks you could potentially stop doing (or do a lot less of) and still achieve the results you’re looking for. Then make another with everything that’s left – the fundamentals you can’t afford to ignore.

You’ll probably end up with three to five “essentials.” Your core skill (graphic design, web development, consulting, etc.), marketing, product/service development, and customer service are key no matter your industry. The more time you can spend working on these things and the less time on everything else, the greater impact you’ll make.

4. You Have to Stick to One Task Until It’s Complete

one task at a time

Image credit: tpsdave

Your idea of perfect time management might be knocking out one task, not stopping until it’s finished, then effortlessly switching to the next.

It doesn’t have to be that way, though. While multitasking (doing more than one thing at once) is generally a bad idea, working on one task for a while, but not finishing it before switching to something else is a perfectly valid way to get things done.

A lot depends on the task at hand. Some projects lend themselves better to finishing in one go, like a phone call or a draft of a blog article. With others, you can actually be more effective by leaving time between different stages of the project to think and reflect before returning to it.

Try This Instead

Instead of forcing yourself to stick to one task until completion, you can try working in designated time chunks. You design a website for two hours, for instance, before having lunch. Then you could do a little marketing and return to the design later that afternoon.

Batching tasks – doing a lot of similar tasks in a designated time frame – is another option. Email is a prime candidate for this. Trying to process emails one at a time (as they come in) is a productivity nightmare. But when you set aside half an hour to do it before the end of the day? It’s a lot easier to get through them.

One thing to be aware of: every time you switch tasks, it takes your brain a few minutes to fully engage with the new work. So while some switching is okay, it’s best in moderation.

3. You Should Schedule Activity into Every Minute of the Workday

packed schedule

Image credit: FirmBee

We aren’t machines, but we try our hardest to work like them.

We pack our schedules with non-stop activities until the very end of the work day. Then we wonder why we feel so unproductive, drained, and stressed out.

Non-stop activity can work when your energy and willpower are high. But as the day wears on, keeping up with that relentless pace gets increasingly difficult. You find yourself staring off into space, or surfing the web instead of engaging the work at hand. Then you end up feeling bad for not sticking to your unreasonable schedule!

Try This Instead

What if, instead of trying to pack every second of the day with activity, you scheduled some time off?

The idea might make you feel guilty. But scheduling a few short breaks throughout your day – and actually taking them when the time comes – can do wonders for your productivity. It might feel like you’re losing time where you could be working, but you make it up (and more) with increased energy and focus when you do get back to work.

One of my favorite productivity hacks is to leave myself an empty block of time in the afternoon. This gives you some flexibility to either take a break, decompress, or address an emergency that comes up as the day demands. Ideally, you’ll put this at a low-energy time – like early afternoon after lunch.

2. You Just Haven’t Found the Perfect System Yet

perfect system

Image credit: geralt

There’s no shortage of time management advice. An entire industry of books, courses, and coaches has sprung up in response to this endless quest to get more out of our days.

Plenty of gurus and authors advertise systems that will supposedly work for anyone. If you try one and can’t get it to work, you might blame yourself for not being disciplined enough.

The real problem probably isn’t you: it’s the system. Just thinking that there’s a perfect solution out there keeps us searching endlessly, paralyzed to make a move to improve our workdays now.

One of the worst time management pitfalls is endlessly consuming information without ever putting anything into action. This is especially harmful because it’s like looking for something you’ll never quite find – the “perfect” system – without ever improving.

Try This Instead

Starting now, forget the idea of finding a universal time management solution.

Tips are everywhere you look, but the only proven solution is to figure out which ones work for you.

It’s time to break out your lab coat and experiment. Try one time management tip at a time (something you aren’t doing now) and see how it works. If it makes you more productive, keep it. If not, scrap it. Rinse and repeat.

All these little tweaks will start to add up. Save 20 minutes here and 30 minutes there, and you’ll soon enough find yourself with extra hours to put in. Don’t worry if the system you build doesn’t work for anyone else… as long as you’re productive, happy, and not stressed out.

1. You Can “Manage” Your Time

manage time watch

Image credit: Unsplash

This is the one time management myth to rule them all!

If you think about it, the term “time management” doesn’t make sense. All of us have the same amount of time every week. It passes at the same rate for everyone – whether you waste it or use it wisely.

That’s why obsessing about managing your time is kind of like Don Quixote obsessing about jousting with windmills. It’s going to pass no matter what we do; it’s out of our control.

Try This Instead

It’s time to stop obsessing about managing every little second. What if we took that focus and turned it on areas we can control? Things like our diets, sleep patterns, and health?

Instead of worrying so much about managing time, we can better manage ourselves. We can get healthy, take action to limit stress, and improve our work environments.

Most of us also have peak performance hours – certain times of the day where we get the most work done. You can boost your productivity significantly just by aligning those times with your most important tasks.

Some of us are early birds, while others prefer working late. Some thrive under fixed schedules; others avoid them like the plague. As entrepreneurs, we get a bit more flexibility to structure our workflow to be more productive. We should use it!

Over to You

You might not be able to technically “manage your time,” but you can manage yourself to get more done – and feel less stressed doing it.

A huge reason why time management myths are so prevalent is the lack of a one-size-fits-all solution. That’s why it’s worthwhile to try things for yourself – to rethink some of the oft-repeated “wisdom” and approach things differently.

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by Corey Pemberton
Corey Pemberton is a freelance copywriter and blogger who helps small businesses and software startups get more traffic and conversions online. You can find him on his website or follow him on Twitter.